Best Meats to Smoke in Smoker

So, now you are into smoking meat which, by the way, is an excellent direction to pursue if outdoor cooking is your thing. My dad was an active smoker for many years and I am so grateful. When I lived at home, our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals always featured smoked meat such as a smoked turkey or beef brisket.

Once you have tasted smoked meat dishes, it is really hard to return to an oven-cooked main course. That smoky richness in flavor, plus the moist, tender condition of the meat is hard to beat. As an added plus, smoking the main dish leaves the oven free to cook the rest of the meal.

But, what are some of the best meats to smoke? We have prepared a detailed guide, explaining each meat type and all their advantages and disadvantages when smoked.

What is Smoking Meat Process?

Smoking food is a process of cooking that involves cooking food using a low temperature for a long period of time. It is also known as low-and-slow method. (Wiki Source)

Smoking food usually takes more than 30 minutes per pound but it depends on the cut and the smoker. There are cases when the meat can be smoked for up to 20 hours.

The duration of smoking is highly depended by the type of food because some food may become dry and inedible if smoked for a long period of time. Usually, lean cuts of meat require less smoking time than other tougher cuts.

During the smoking process, the fat in meat and the connective tissues (collagen) will slowly break down, turning into sugars which sweeten the meat and keep it moist during smoking. This will improve the meat and become it more tender, flavorful and delicious to eat.

What are the Best Meats to Smoke?

When it comes to choosing what are the best meats to smoke in electric smoker or any other smoker model, there is a variety of cuts of meat to choose from and each one of them has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Pork

Let's start with pork.

A lot of people think that pork is one of the best meats to smoke. The main reason is that pork comes naturally high in fat, which gives it more flavor when it comes to low and slow cooking.

Another reason why a lot of people think that pork is one of the best meats to smoke is because it can be combined with a lot of flavors when smoking. With pork, you are free to use sauces, mopping mixtures, dry rubs, glazing etc. And, when your favorite flavors are combined with the sweet and the never-ending fat of pork, the meat turns out amazing.

Best Pork Cuts to Smoke

Pork Butt or Boston Butt - This cut is located on the upper shoulder of the pig. It usually weighs between 5-10 lbs. You want the bone-in on this cut as a great guide to help get the meat fully cooked. When the meat is ready, you should be able to give the bone a little twist and pull it right out.

The roast can take up to 10 hours to cook, so you may want to get an early start. The internal temperature should be around 205°F when done. Hickory or pecan wood chips give the best flavor in my opinion.

Cook Time:

10 Hours

Preferred Wood:

Hickory, Pecan

Target Internal Temp:

205°F

Picnic Shoulder - Located just below the pork butt on the lower shoulder down to the elbow. Most of the time the shoulder is sold with the skin attached as the butt roast has had the skin removed. When smoking, I like to remove the skin for a better smoky taste.

This cut does not contain the amount of fat that a butt roast has, so you may want to mix up some apple juice, sugar, and salt to inject into the meat for moisture before smoking. The cook time, as well as the internal temperature, are the same as for the butt roast.

Cook Time:

10 Hours

Preferred Wood:

Hickory, Pecan

Target Internal Temp:

205°F

Pork Ribs - I just love smoked ribs, especially baby backs, but spares will do nicely.

Baby backs are located in the loin section while the spares are found in the belly area. Since the spares are larger, you may want to divide them, like St Louis style ribs, so they will smoke faster.

Smoked-Pork-RIbs

These can take from 4-6 hours to smoke. I recommend using apple, maple or cherry wood chips to give them a slightly sweet smoked flavor. A sure test for doneness is when you can slide a toothpick easily through the meat.

Cook Time:

4-6 Hours

Preferred Wood:

Apple, Cherry, Maple

Target Internal Temp:

N/A

Pork Chops - An easy, quick smoke that only takes under 2 hours and is done when the chops reach an internal temperature of 145°F.

Cook Time:

1.5 Hours

Preferred Wood:

Apple, Cherry, Maple

Target Internal Temp:

145°F

Beef

Beef comes very close to pork when it comes to the popularity of smoking. Beef usually requires a little bit more time to smoke when compared to pork due to lower levels of fat. But, this type of meat still has more than enough amount of fat and connective tissues, which after broken down and are properly smoked, still makes this one of the best meats to smoke and try.

One thing to have in mind when smoking beef, is the USDA grading. The USDA grades beef in three different scales to divide different cuts from each other based on several factors of quality, including fat levels and leanness. Remember that fat and how lean a cut is directly impacts the smoking times and the smoking quality.

You can read more about Steak USDA Grading & Quality in our steak grilling guide.

When first starting to smoke, I suggest you to go for a Choice grade beef, which is not terrible expensive and you can get decent results from it.

Types of Beef for Smoking

Smoked-Chuck-Roast

Chuck Roast - This cut is probably one of the best meats to smoke in a smoker, bar none.

Smoking magically turns the inexpensive cut of beef into the next best thing to smoked brisket, maybe better. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Cook time is between 5-6 hours targeting 205°F as the internal temperature goal. Hickory or pecan wood chips is what I use to flavor the cut.

Cook Time:

5-6 Hours

Preferred Wood:

Hickory, Pecan

Target Internal Temp:

205°F

Full Packer Brisket - Making smoked brisket will cost a bit more per pound and it may take a few tries to perfect, but this is the burnt ends mecca. At some point, you will want to take this smoking journey. Set aside 10-14 hours of smoking time, so you may want to plan an overnighter in the outdoor lounge chair.

Use oak and hickory wood chips for a deeper smoke taste, or you can go the pecan or cherry route for a more nutty or sweeter fruit smoked taste, the goal is to reach 205°F. Just be sure to check your wood chips and water for this long of a smoke. Replenish as needed.

Cook Time:

10-14 Hours

Preferred Wood:

Oak, Hickory, Pecan

Target Internal Temp:

205°F

Beef Ribs - Ask the butcher for ribs from the chuck area of the steer to get the best results.

Salt with a bit of ground black pepper is all you need for these bad boys. Cooking these ribs are easy and relatively quick compared to a brisket ending up with a similar result as to taste and texture.

Beef-Ribs

Smoked Beef Ribs

Your ribs will take about 5-6 hours to reach 205°F internally. I recommend the same flavor wood chips as the brisket.

Cook Time:

5-6 Hours

Preferred Wood:

Oak, Hickory, Pecan

Target Internal Temp:

205°F

Beef Steaks - Smoking any kind of steak is rewarding. The rule of thumb is that you want the cut of meat to be at least an inch thick. Cook to your favorite internal temperature depending on how you like your steak.

Chicken

Poultry can easily be considered one of the best meats to smoke. It is truly one of the most common and popular meat out there, and this may be due to being more affordable than other cuts of meat.

This type of meat offers a lot of versatility for everyone. It can be sauced up, skewered, marinated, brined, injected etc., offering a wide variety of flavors.

Also, since poultry doesn’t require a long smoking time to be cooked, it offers you the ability to explore and learn more about smoking food in a short amount of time. You get to play with different temperature settings, wood types, cooking times etc.

Best Cuts of Chicken to Smoke

Smoked-Chicken-Quarters

Smoked Chicken Quarters

Whole chickens down to leg quarts and bone-in breasts do great in the smoker. You want an internal temperature of 180°F when you take it out. The chicken will continue to cook even after you remove it. Place on a platter with a foil tent cover to let rest and finish cooking to 165°F. A whole chicken can take up to 5 hours to smoke.

Turkey

Whole Turkey - can be smoked perfectly in 6-8 hours by reaching an internal temperature of 165°F when the smoker is preheated to 225°F. My timing is based on an 8-12 pound bird. 

Once you have had your first bite, smoked turkey does usually become a family tradition. At least that is what happened in several families I know including mine. Dad was busy in the backyard smoking around the holidays.

The best place to check the temperature is in the thickest part of the thigh. Dad used fruitwood chips, mainly apple, but if you like a deep smoky flavor, use hickory. He also smoked turkey breasts at 250°F for around 30 minutes per pound. Know the cooked bird will look pink on the inside flesh.

Lamb

While lamb meat may still be a great option to smoke, it is not as widely used as Pork, Beef or Poultry. This is due to its price being slightly higher than some other cuts of meat and its availability.

Best Lamb Cuts to Smoke

Lamb Shoulder – Lamb shoulder is one of the fattiest cut of this animal. Since it has a high level of fat, it has the potential to break down in soft, moist cuts after smoking. If smoked properly, you will get a smokey-flavored meat with gamey texture.

Lamb Leg – Very similar to lamb shoulder, lamb leg can be a good option to try an uncommon cut in the smoker. It can offer amazing results if cooked low and slow.

Thanks to its uneven build, you need to make sure that you position it correctly in the smoker for best results. Be careful to not overcook one side and undercook the other. One trick you can try is the leg is boneless, is to cut it in half and divide the halves on the cooking racks for more even cooking.

Seafood

Smoked-Oysters

Smoked Oysters

Probably the less used type of meat to cook on a smoker is seafood. Most of people undervalue the smoked seafood. You will be amazed by the deliciousness of smoked oysters or smoked salmon. Among other fish and seafood which taste great when smoked are catfish, trout, shrimp and oysters.

Salmon is probably the best seafood to smoke. It is a quite fatty and oily fish, and when smoked, it gets a deep flavor and makes a wonderful meal.

One unique way to smoke salmon is planked. You grill/smoke the fish on a plank, usually cedar, and let the woody flavor infuse into the fish.

Best Meats to Smoke for Beginners

As for beginners, the best meats to smoke I would suggest meats which are not very expensive and don’t require several hours to cook.

Even though a beginner can try and successfully smoke all the meats mentioned in the upper sections, I would suggest to start with something like Poultry which is cheap and easy to smoke or other cuts of meat such as Sausages or even fish.

What Meats are not Recommended to Smoke?

All the cuts of meat I mentioned in the upper paragraphs are some of the best meats to smoke and are highly recommended to be cooked on the smoker. But, what about meat cuts which are not recommended to smoke?

In general, all the cuts of meat which we consider good or high quality, are not recommended to smoke. Cuts which contain a low level of fat and are very lean will not taste great when smoked because they will dry out and sometimes become inedible.

Cuts like pork tenderloin or lean roast are not as good when smoked. They don’t have much fat and smoking will dry them out.

As for steaks, I think that grilling is a much better option to try. Sure, you can try and smoke steak but I think that you will get the best results by using a grill. You will also save wood and a lot of your time if you simply go for the traditional way of grilling steaks rather than smoking them.

Final Thoughts

These are all some of the best meats to smoke. After you get comfortable using your smoker, it's time to get creative. Play around with wood chip combinations to build depths of flavor.

Several hours to overnight marinades for your choice of meat can blend with the smoky flavors for a signature taste.

Fish, such as salmon or tuna are delicious when smoked and is quick and easy to do.

Smoking food should be a funny experience and once you learn all the tips and tricks, you will see how easy is to get amazing results and a delicious meal.

About Kendrick

Kendrick is an outdoor cooking enthusiast, currently living in Kansas, who loves to share his knowledge about cooking and grilling with everyone (Read More)

Leave a Comment

7 Shares
Pin3
Share4
Tweet
Share